Work Sucks Why bother ‘paying your dues’ at any company?

Cover Image - Work Sucks
WordsGuy Montgomery
IllustrationsBaptiste Virot

We’ve all had tedious, mind-crushingly boring jobs that we couldn’t wait to leave. But you can guarantee that at every one, your manager acted like you were blessed to be there and if you only put your head down and worshipped the company, you’d get far. Comedian Guy Montgomery remembers how this idea impacted him as a job working for a food and drink company in Christchurch. While not all of us may have dressed up as a voluptuous popsicle, you’ll be able to relate to these feelings of ‘why bother?’.

There is an idea inside of the working world that it is important to “pay your dues”. It doesn’t matter what the company is, or how long you intend to be in their employ, you have gotta pay your dues. Your “dues”, of course, are the same shit jobs that senior employees have proudly outgrown. Your “dues” represent the idea that your ambitions couldn’t possibly stretch beyond the industry you have just joined because you need money now. If you just pay your dues and abolish any dreams you had for a life beyond the company you’ve just joined out of necessity, the world could be at your feet. Put short: what is the value of paying those dues when you have no desire to work your way up to company or industry? 

As a young man, I spent a few years deep inside the belly of a promotional machine. I was on the frontline, sent to supermarkets and liquor stores to sample a variety of approved and new foods and drinks to the high society consumers who shopped in the outskirts of Christchurch. It wasn’t my dream job, but I was told by my manager that I showed great promise and that if I kept my head down, all of what he had could be mine. What he had was sole charge of recruiting and delegating promotional shifts to stoned teenagers inside of various supermarket chains. I was already living my life as one of the stoned teenagers—what if that is the level of responsibility I aspired to inside of the fast paced, high powered world of promotions? 

There is nothing wrong with giving cheese to middle aged mums in supermarkets and I was good at it. Different cheeses had different lines, you should have seen me hawking gouda. I’d say, “Now this is a hard cheese, but a fair cheese.” People loved that. And it wasn’t just cheese either, I’d do drinks, yoghurts, and an exciting new line of crackers made from chickpeas. Once during a heatwave I sold out of a Peach Ginger Beer in 30 minutes and got paid for a full four hour shift, there were benefits.

My final job for the company (unbeknownst to me at the time) was a very big gig indeed, the Christchurch A & P (Agricultural and Pastoral) Show. This is a huge day on both the Christchurch rural and high society calendar; carnival rides, food stalls, all of the latest technology in the agriculture sector on display and a wide ranging variety of archaic animal based competition.

For the less refined attendees of the show, there was also a performance stage. The thing that my promotions company cleverly spotted was missing from this stage, was corporate crossover. How are these children going to know which products to covet, if they didn’t have it rammed down their throat in the form of a song and dance number performed by four anthropomorphized ice blocks from the Popsicle™ stable of intellectual property?

I, alongside three of my most esteemed and money-hungry colleagues, were to embody these popsicles. We spent three afternoons with a choreographer, rehearsing our very basic dance number that would be performed to a pre-recorded vocal and instrumental track. The dancing was basically all we had, as we were quite forcefully told that while these popsicles can dance, play instruments and even technically sing, they cannot—under any circumstances—talk.

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It was 30 degrees and while we’d all rehearsed the steps for our small dance, we had not been designated costumes until the big day itself. I hasten to remind you that in 2006 many of our cultural mores lacked the sophistication of today. You would think something as insane as a band of ice blocks wouldn’t require gendering, but the signals fixed to our giant costumes were overt.

The lead guitarist lemonade popsicle was a woman, and a hell of a woman at that. Flesh tights, fishnet stockings, va-va-voom eyelashes and lips. It turned out that this was the only costume that could contain my hulking teenaged body. Of course because the costumes afforded total anonymity it made no difference to any of us who we would perform as. In between performances, however, we were to walk around handing out popsicles from cooler bags. This in and of itself was a challenge, as the sun was working with approximately twice the enthusiasm of both the cooler bags and the melting teenagers inside of the popsicle suits. The kids would swarm you first, and then we pushed further afield to distribute our semi-solid ice blocks to the spillover from the horse and cattle shows.

This was largely made up of boozed farmers whose livestock hadn’t placed and were looking for a sweet treat and, in many instances, I found some sweet company. My boxy, lemonade arse was grazed by wandering hands, my legs glanced over and my ears were inundated with flattery from the inane (“nice legs”) to the absurd (“are you heading out Rangiora ways later?”).

I took it all in good humor, but some of these farmers were the holders of pretty regressive views towards sex and sexuality, and I thought it was important to take advantage of my flying incognito as one of their own gender inside of this sexualised frozen block of lemonade. The more lewd were thanked for their come-ons in my most masculine voice, some even received counter offers of sexual favours. Nearly always they would retreat and recoil.

After the fact, I was given a phenomenal let down speech. Me! One of the most promising employees the young promotions company has seen through its doors. A young man, who was told that with a shred of resilience, if you keep your head down and pay your dues, all of this (a spreadsheet to organise employees on a Dell Inspirion E1505) could be yours. Apparently breaking character (offering sexual favors in my lowest possible voice to drunken farmers who were turned on by an anthropomorphic lemonade popsicle), was entirely inappropriate and all the hard work I’d put in across a wide range of supermarkets in the Canterbury region was now up in smoke.

It is a funny thing, being dismissed from a job you never wanted in the first place with all of the gravitas blowing the biggest opportunity of your life. 

That isn’t to say paying your dues has no value. If you know what you want to do, I can see that paying your dues has its merits. If the path towards where you want to be starts by portraying a mute, seductive lemonade popsicle then by all means, keep your mouth shut and your ass out. But if your ambition stretches beyond what the person at the top of the promotional hierarchy is currently doing, I think you can hold the dues system as lightly as you choose. Heck, I would even argue that I paid my dues to absolutely no avail, although I’m not sure that’s how they see it.